Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: Insistent Obstacles to Full Participation

This post is part of a series of excerpts from the remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Women and the Economy Summit at Westin Saint Francis, San Francisco, CA on September 16, 2011. The video footage can be viewed below. We recommend viewing from 3:37-30:40.

Insistent Obstacles to Full Participation
In the United States and in every economy in APEC, millions of women are still sidelined, unable to find a meaningful place for themselves in the formal workforce. And some of those who get to enter the workforce are really confined by very clear signals to a lower rung on the job ladder, and there’s a web of legal and social restrictions that limit their potential. Or they are confronted with a glass ceiling that keeps them from the most senior positions.

Only 11 of the CEOs of the Fortune Global 500 companies are women. That’s less than 3 percent. Some women in the APEC region don’t have the same inheritance rights as men. So they can’t inherit property or businesses owned by their fathers. Some don’t have the power to confer citizenship on their children, so their families have less access to housing and education, and they must constantly renew residency permits making it harder for them to work. Some are even subject to different taxes than men. Too often they are denied access to credit and may even be prohibited from opening bank accounts, signing contracts, purchasing property, incorporating a business, or filing lawsuits without a male guardian. Some women earn almost as much as men before they have children but less afterwards and even less if they are single mothers.

These barriers and restrictions, some formal, some informal, erode women’s abilities to participate fully in their economies and to support their families whether as employees or entrepreneurs. Now, these barriers are certainly not unique to this region, the Asia Pacific region. Variations of them can be found everywhere in the world. But because this is the most dynamic economic region in the world, what we do will have an impact on everywhere else.

Some barriers are left over from a different time and haven’t changed to reflect new economic realities or concepts of justice. Some seek to preserve an economic order that ensures that men have the higher paying jobs to support their families. And some reflect lingering cultural norms, the belief that women need to be protected from work that is thought to be dangerous or unhealthy for them.

In truth, what is dangerous is denying ourselves the level of economic growth we need to build stronger societies. And what is unhealthy is for women to be denied the chance to contribute fully to that growth, because that denies everyone, first and foremost their families, a chance at greater prosperity.

Now, economic orders do not perpetuate themselves. They are made and remade through countless decisions, small and large, by economic policymakers, political leaders, and business executives. So if we want to see opportunities for women improve, we must begin with sound economic policies that explicitly address the unique challenges that limit women. And here’s why: A Goldman Sachs report shows how a reduction in barriers to female labor force participation would increase America’s GDP by 9 percent. We admit we still have such barriers. It would increase the Eurozone’s by 13 percent – and they need it – and Japan’s by 16 percent. Unlocking the potential of women by narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita incomes by the year 2020 in several APEC economies, including China, Russia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea.

Quality of Spending and Quantity of Saving
Of course, rising income means increased spending, which in itself helps to fuel more growth. And here, too, women make a strong contribution. A Boston Consulting Group survey concludes that, globally, women will control $15 trillion in spending by the year 2014. And by 2028, BCG says women will be responsible for about two-thirds of consumer spending worldwide.

Digging a little deeper into the data, we can see positive benefits that flow from both the quality of spending and the quantity of saving by women because multiple studies have shown that women spend more of their earned income on food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling for themselves and their children. In short, they reinvest, and that kind of spending has a multiplier effect leading to more job growth and diversified local economies. And that, in turn, can help ensure better educated, healthier citizens as well as provide a cushion in the event of market downturns.

The research also shows that women are stronger savers than men. Data – does that surprise any of the women in the audience? (Laughter.) Data from 20 semi-industrialized countries suggest that for every one percentage point increase in the share of household income generated by women, aggregate domestic savings increased by roughly 15 basis points. And a higher savings rate translates into a higher tax base as well.

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